Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Contributor:  Audrey Allen, Member Services Committee

The International Labour Organization (ILO) describes sexual harassment in the workplace as any verbal or physical act with a sexual nature, performed in recruitment or in the workplace by a boss, manager, employee, client or customer of a working unit, that is unwelcomed by the person receiving it and has caused the person to feel violated, insulted, and being in an unbearable hostile environment.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines this behavior as unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature ...when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Workplace covers any place under the direct or indirect control of the employer that an employee needs to be present or go to in order to carry out work. It includes office and other locations where the job responsibilities are undertaken, such as offices of clients, destinations of business trips, venues of business lunch/dinner, business branches, homes of clients, etc. and also the appropriate extension of the workplace, such as excursion, social activities, staff gathering after work that are organized by the company.
There are different forms of sexual harassment in the workplace – verbal, physical, visual. The verbal or physical acts with a sexual nature include joking or teasing with a sexual nature; continuous invitation to dinner or date despite rejection; intentional dissemination of hearsay with a sexual nature; enquiring for or sharing sexual experience; spreading, request for sexual intercourse; unnecessary physical contact; forced sexual intercourse; visual act would involve displaying a nude or image with apparent sexual contents.
Sexual harassment in the workplace can be very damaging to the well being of an employee as well as the company. It destroys morale, build distrust, and affect productivity through frequent absences, illness, reduced efficiency, demotivation and resignations. It could result in emotional and stress-related illnesses, revulsion, anger, and frustration.  It can affect promotion, loss of benefits through length of service on retirement, and job security.  

Recourse against sexual harassment can be by way of legal, but research has suggested that the best way is to develop and implement a policy.  HR can play a leading role in preventing and correcting this behavior, through awareness, communication and civility can lead to the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace.  Employers can implement a policy and include the following steps to protect their company and employees:

§  Create a written policy on sexual harassment. Immediately emphasize in the policy that the company will have zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace. Also state that if a complaint is lodged, it will be thoroughly and quickly investigated.
§  Educate all supervisors and staff about what constitutes sexual harassment.  Clearly define sexual harassment so no one can claim that he/she did not know that the behavior was inappropriate.
§  Publicize the policy throughout the workplace.
§  Create a communication channel where complaints can be reported and also where natural embarrassment, reluctance and fear will be eliminated or minimized.
§  Take speedy action to investigate and resolve all complaints. The policy should identify the individuals to whom a complaint can be made. It is usually the Manager, Human Resources or some other management official. It is wise to name at least two people to contact since one may be the harasser, and the company will need a neutral party to investigate.
§  Communicate that offenders will be appropriately disciplined.
§  When beginning the investigation, question the complainant first and then the alleged harasser. Ask open- ended questions and try not to be judgmental. Give the same attention and respect to both parties.
§  Do not guarantee absolute confidentiality to either party but do try to keep the investigation as confidential as possible.

§  After interviewing the parties involved, speak to any witnesses whose names have arisen in the investigation, and reiterate that they should also maintain confidentiality to prevent hurt feelings and further damage to the workforce.

§  Evaluate all the evidence from every source. If the investigation is inconclusive, notify both parties that the investigation did not support the allegations and no corrective actions will therefore be taken. If the evidence, however, substantiates the complaint, take immediate steps to discipline the harasser. This may be a severe reprimand, suspension, or termination depending on the seriousness of the behavior and the disciplinary steps required to be followed in the company’s policy. Warn the harasser if he/she is not discharged that any future sexual harassment or retaliation can result in possible termination. Tell the victim of HR’s decision, apologize, and promise to stop any future sexual harassment or retaliation that may occur. Do not engage in any action towards the victim that may be interpreted as punishment for coming forward.
§  Write a thorough report on all the findings. Summarize the allegations, responses and conclusions made. Allow both parties to read the report but do not give them copies so that confidentiality may be maintained.
§  Monitor exit interviews for previously suppressed claims of sexual harassment and act on the complaints, even if the employee has left the job. It is suggested by the ILO that monitoring of both parties continue for up to one year to assure that sexual harassment has stopped and has not reoccurred.

If HR consistently follows its company policy, train its employees to spot sexual harassment, and take swift corrective action if harassment does occur, these steps may prevent this type of misconduct. 

According to the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and measures should be implemented to address this issue in the workplace. In several developed countries there are organizations that have the responsibility to advise persons who make charges of sexual harassment, to disseminate information and to train in the handling of sexual harassment cases. If management’s intervention is ineffective, then one may consult a lawyer or contact an organization such as the Bureau of Women’s Affairs to seek redress.  

While there is no Jamaican law on the subject of sexual harassment, it could become a legal issue depending on the extent of the harassment, for instance if it reaches the state of assault.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Social Media Network Policy

Author:  Audrey Allen
Member – Member Services Committee
Social media networking is engrained in our personal and professional lives.  The younger generation have become totally immersed in the internet and interactive mobile technologies such as texting, instant messaging, blogging and social networking.   Consequently, it has become necessary to implement rules and regulations to efficiently manage and monitor the use of this phenomenon in the working environment.

But what is social media?  Hemsley (2012) defines social media as the set of platforms that enable “people to connect, communicate and collaborate.  Two key aspects of any kind of social software are that they allow for users to self-organize into social networks, and they support conversational interaction and social feedback that facilitates building trust and signaling reputation within a community”.

Social media is often considered only as some well-known sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.  It actually goes further however, encompassing the Internet technologies that enable people to share contents through social networks, blogs, videos, photos, wikis, online reviews.  All of these platforms work together to create a rich set of tools that allows users to find information and stay continuously connected to friends and people with whom they share interests.

The growth of social channels, networks and media tools are progressing rapidly, according to a study conducted by the Canadian Media Research Consortium in November 2011:
  • 800 million users for Facebook
  • 200 million Twitter Users per day
  • LinkedIn has over 10 million users

Benefits and Challenges

There are several benefits of social media networking, as mentioned in a SHRM 2010 Report. Your organization’s participation may

  • Increase traffic to company website
  • Improve your organization’s reputation/authority
  • Build connections
  • Assist in Recruitment
  • Obtain instant feedback
  • Conduct competitive intelligence analysis
  • Discover resources, expertise, potential prospects
  • Innovate and solve problems
  • Build a sense of community

On the other hand, there is the “dark side” of the social media.  Utililization may

  • Present a compromise to confidentiality.  Company information can be obtained by cybercriminals; consequently naïve users engaging in friendly chats may lead to unintended disclosure of company information.
  • Open up the possibility for hackers to commit fraud and launch spam and virus attacks.
  • Increase the risk of people falling prey to online scams that seem genuine, resulting in data or identity theft.
  • Result in negative comments from employees about the company or potential legal consequences if employees use these sites to view objectionable, illicit or offensive material.
  • Result in lost productivity, especially if employees are busy updating profiles, etc. Research has indicated that half of employees access Facebook during working hours. 
Why do we need a social media network policy?

The main purposes of a social media networking policy are

  1. The opportunity to build company’s brands, based on the benefits outlined earlier.  There is a need to manage and monitor what is being said about the organization
  2. Crisis Management. There is a huge risk for employees to inadvertently damage the brand of organization.  Guidelines are required to mitigate these risks.

Blocking of the social networking sites on the company network to achieve these objectives should not be considered as an option as employees also post from home.  A ban or block will likely cause frustration and resentment among younger workers. which may result in employees identifying a way around this restriction, for example through anonymous proxies which could damage corporate defenses or by leaving the organization.

The policy will therefore serve to guide employees in the use of the social media network within the workplace.  Organizations need to exert some control on how sites are used and not just hope that employees will exercise some common sense.  In addition, penalties cannot be administered for violation of rules that do not exist.  Discussions on this subject by panelists at the HRMAJ General Meeting held on Thursday, May 31, 2012, emphasized two important characteristics of the policy.  It is critical that it is explicitly clear on what is permissible and the consequences that will result in relation to any breaches to such policy.  There should also be effective communication throughout the organization as it relates to the details and implementation of the policy, with an indication of employees’ understanding and acceptance on record.   This will be very useful in the event of any possible litigation process.

While social media network policies are tailored to the needs of the organization, experts have suggested that the following elements be included:
  • Definition of social networking, particularly pertaining to your organization so employees know exactly what is meant by the term
·         Establishment of a clear and defined purpose for the policy
  • Communication of benefits of social networking and of having a policy
·         Monitoring of Employees
  • Consideration of any legal ramifications of not following laws
  • Reference to proprietary and confidential information at risk
  • Productivity in terms of social networking
  • Provides guidance regarding social networking outside of company time/property that could be associated with the company, employees or customers
  • Outline of disciplinary measures to be taken for policy violations
·         Employee’s Acknowledgment
The most concerning aspect of social networking platforms is that they encourage people to share personal information. Even the most cautious and well-meaning individuals can give away information they should not; the same applies to what is posted on company-approved social networking platforms. 
Employees may not be aware of how their actions online may compromise company security. Educate employees as to how a simple click on a received link or a downloaded application can result in a virus infecting their computer and the network.  Remember that just because employees may have an online profile, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a high level of security awareness.
The inclusion of these guidelines into your social media network policy should alleviate any possible misunderstandings which may arise with the use of this ever growing trend within the working environment.